This week we are taking a look at recent changes introduced by Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunal Service (‘HMCTS’) to the application form (petition) for divorce, dissolution or judicial separation. The new form was published on 7th August and will replace the old form for all new applications from 4th September 2017. Practitioners and the public do need to ensure the new form is used from 4th September or run the risk of their application being returned.
So, what has changed in the form?
In short, the new application form is far more user friendly and informative than the old form and we consider it a vast improvement in many respects. The most helpful feature of the new form is the addition of the guidance notes to the form itself – previously these were contained in a separate document and members of the public were not aware of the guidance available or how to find it.
Now let’s look at some of the changes in more detail. The main changes which we consider will benefit the public and streamline the process, reducing cost and delay are as follows:
- Guidance notes. These are now interspersed throughout the application form itself which is far more helpful for members of the public completing the application. Whilst the new form alternates between referencing an individual as the ‘Petitioner’ or the ‘Applicant’ which may be confusing, the guidance notes do at least make this clear at the outset to hopefully avoid this problem. An example of the guidance is below.
- Language. In an effort to make the new application far more accessible, the language of it is generally in plain English. The “jurisdiction” section is explained in more detail and referred to as “why does this court have the legal power to deal with your application” which is far more helpful. Additionally, the form has changed some of the names of the sections such as changing the final section from “the prayer” to “Summary of what is being applied for (the prayer)”. This is a change which has long been argued for by many and sees a step in the right direction to improving clarity within the process.
- Confidentiality. A major change to the form itself is the inclusion of a section to preserve the confidentiality of the Petitioner’s contact details. Whilst this was an option previously, it was not asked as part of the form and so many were unaware of the ability to preserve their confidentiality in stations involving domestic violence or abuse. The new form still requires completion of a separate form (C8), although at least this option is now flagged in the divorce application. This is a positive step in protecting the confidentiality of vulnerable parties.
- Statement of Case. Previously, the section “statement of case” was very basic and it was unclear for those representing themselves what level or type of information was required – applications were rejected for not providing enough information, or for providing far too much! However, the recent update has corrected this problem by introducing more question and answers.
- Adultery section. There have been criticisms reported in the media of the changes to the ‘adultery’ section of the form. Section 8 of the new form allows applicants to insert details of the person their spouse committed adultery with. However, what is not reported in the media is that this section was in the old form (and is required should an individual wish to include these details, despite it being strongly discouraged by the profession). The new form at least provides general guidance that naming the other party is not generally done. We would prefer that the new form also explains how naming another party can increase costs for all concerned and lead to delay, as this would provide further discouragement for individuals completing the forms themselves.
- Applying for a Financial Order. We have lost count of the number of times a client has approached us having already received a petition for divorce and being worried that their spouse was ‘taking them to court over money’ as a result of the wording of the old form. The new form now explains as part of the application that ticking certain boxes relating to financial orders at the end of the application will not start financial proceedings. This is a welcome addition, as are the guidance notes in the margins which make it clear what the legal ramifications are should an individual tick or not tick this box. As an illustration, this is the old form, compared to the new form:
The old form
The new form
The aim of the revamp is to improve the service offered by HMCTS, to speed up the process and to reduce the number of applications returned due to mistakes, incorrect information, and inadequate supporting material. At CFLP, we have found that where clients have tried to complete the application themselves, it is easy for an individual to misinterpret certain aspects of the old form, or to simply be confused by the legal terminology used. From our perspective the changes introduced, particularly the more user friendly language, are a welcome addition and long overdue.
If you have any questions regarding these changes, please do not hesitate to call Simon, Adam, Tricia, Sue or Gail on 01223 443333.